By now, a lot of people have heard about the several sexual harassment claims filed against Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the hot yoga practice and owner of a global yoga empire. Bikram turned his system of yoga into an empire, with his name attached to over 700 yoga schools in over 200 countries. According to several women who accused Bikram of sexual harassment, no one dared speak up against Bikram. Sarah Baughn, one of his accusers even claimed that many people in the yoga community tried to ignore the growing criticism against Bikram, who was an icon to yogis and celebrities like George Clooney, Madonna, and Jennifer Aniston.
In 2013, Sarah Baughn sued Bikram for sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination. She claimed that Bikram attacked her at a Bikram teacher training program in 2008. Baughn was one of six women who filed lawsuits against Bikram and Bikram Yoga College of India, accusing them of sexual battery, gender violence, false imprisonment and other wrongdoing.
Most of these women allege that they continued to work with Bikram, paid thousands of dollars to be certified yoga teachers and endured constant harassment because they could not be certified teachers unless Bikram approved. In January of 2016, Bikram was ordered to pay punitive damages of $6.5 million as well as $924,000 in compensation to his former legal adviser, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden. The plaintiff in this case filed a lawsuit in 2013 for breach of contract and wrongful termination in which she claimed that Bikram “created a hypersexual, offensive and degrading environment for women…demanding that female staffers brush his hair and give him massages.” She further alleged that she was fired when she refused to help cover up a rape allegation.
Jafa-Bodden was the first to win a case against Bikram in 2016. Of the six cases, three are still outstanding, and the others were settled out of court. Often all it takes is for one person to speak up about sexual harassment at work. No matter how well known a potential harasser is, one person can make a difference.